I've been getting this overwhelming feeling that there's just too much "stuff" in my life. Too many status updates, too many emails, too many unread RSS items, too many photos to look at, etc etc. You could say the same about movies, TV shows, books, music, clutter... and on and on.
We're doing it to ourselves, really. Technology, while making our lives easier and faster in many ways, also makes it very easy to pack more in to our lives. And the most challenging part is most of this new stuff is digital, so there's very little physical cost to adding more. (Just imagine how much space 100 GBs of music would take up on your shelf!?) The only cost is our time and attention, and most of us are really bad at protecting that and keeping it focused on the right things.
All of this "stuff" also makes boredom and downtime less common. Our brains no longer get to take breaks, we no longer take time to enjoy silence, ponder big questions, or even focus on only one thing. Instead we try to multi-task, constantly check our news feeds, check in to every place we go, take photos of our food... you know the deal.
Scott Belsky hit on this big time in his post What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking & Sacred Space:
Interruption-free space is sacred. Yet, in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the internet, people, and other forms of distraction. Our cars now have mobile phone integration and a thousand satellite radio stations. When walking from one place to another, we have our devices streaming data from dozens of sources. Even at our bedside, we now have our iPads with heaps of digital apps and the world's information at our fingertips.
Belsky ties this into basic human needs:
The need to be connected is, in fact, very basic in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the psychological theory that explains the largest and most fundamental human desires. Our need for a sense of belonging comes right after physical safety. We thrive on friendship, family, and the constant affirmation of our existence and relevance. Our self-esteem is largely a product of our interactions with others.
And how the digital world now does this connection in real time:
It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we've ever known. Your confidence and self-esteem can quickly be reassured by checking your number of “followers” on Twitter or the number of “likes” garnered by your photographs and blog posts. The traction you are getting in your projects, or with your business, can now be measured and reported in real time.
So thanks to the digital world, we've conquered boredom and downtime, while building real-time, always-on connections and insta-self esteem boosts! Sounds too good to be true, right?
It has to be... and I don't think I am alone in this feeling. I've read many posts on this subject over the last few months and talked to a bunch of people my age and older who are starting to feel the same way. I do think this is a natural progression as we humans figure this stuff out as it's being created. Think about it, Facebook is only 9 years old, with most of us using the site over the last 4 or 5 years. In the end, once the novelty wears off, I think most of us start feeling the stress and burden this always-on life delivers and we begin to rebel.
That's where I am at right now. Before I go full-on Luddite mode, I am going to take a breather and disconnect a little. Not completely, but begin removing the stuff that just doesn't work any longer.
I keep coming back to Merlin Mann's Better post:
To be honest, I don’t have a specific agenda for what I want to do all that differently, apart from what I’m already trying to do every day:
- identify and destroy small-return bullshit;
- shut off anything that’s noisier than it is useful;
- make brutally fast decisions about what I don’t need to be doing;
- avoid anything that feels like fake sincerity (esp. where it may touch money);
- demand personal focus on making good things;
- put a handful of real people near the center of everything.
All I know right now is that I want to do all of it better. Everything better. Better, better.
Especially the first two bullets. What does that mean for me?
- A 30-day hiatus from Facebook (mobile bookmark deleted, browser blocks in place at work)
- The only social places you will find me from now on: here on my blog, Flickr, and Twitter.
- Unplugging at home: a 30-day experiment of not keeping my phone next to my bed.
- Work on reducing the number of RSS feeds I subscribe to, as well as reduce the number of users I follow on Twitter.
- Begin a meditation practice: 15 minutes a day.
I will check back at the end of March to see how this little experiment went and figure out where to go next.
Will you join me in disconnecting a little?